Thanks to anyone who checked in on me for Ironman CDA! It was an amazing day in many ways. The journey for me started 6 months ago with some big training, my ironman swim training and weight loss.
However, 1 week before the race I was training hard and ended up putting my back and shoulder into spasm. I went to a massage therapist on Monday and that did not help at all. The 750 mile drive to Coeur D’ Alene was extremely painful and I ended up with a doctor prescribing muscle relaxants 2 days before the race. For 3 days I was in agonizing pain, being unable to sit in a chair, just lying flat on the floor alternating ice and heat or pacing in circles. My family was worried about me and my friends thought I would not be able to even start the race. Both physically and emotionally it was very intense. At 4am on Sunday morning I decided that even on muscle relaxants and my back all locked up I would try to stretch it out as much as I could and attempt the swim. I told my wife that I may only make it 10 yards into the swim and turn around and be done for the day, but that I was going to at least go out and try and see how things went after training so hard.
Around 6:30 in the morning I had all of my gear set up, had my wetsuit on, and was lined up to see how long my back would hold up. It was not a good day for an Ironman in that the winds were up around 15 mph at 5am and with the lake at 61F it had a main swell of waves from the wind coming straight in at the beach of maybe 1 to 2 feet and a cross wind causing some diagonal chop from the southwest. At around 6:50 I crossed the starting line and into the cold water. I just set out to see if I could at least finish the swim. It was much worse in the water than it looked from land and the other swimmers were affected by the waves with much disorientation and swimming into each other. I found that during the first thousand yards that I was able to maintain a good swimming position and though my shoulder was still pretty locked up, my back was mostly ok. It was tough going as the sideways chop often smacked me in the face at the top of a 2 foot swell and sometimes I didn’t get air, but water, but I made it through the first lap (1.2 miles) and entered the water for the 2nd lap. My shoulder was a bit weaker on the second lap, but I finished the swim feeling alright.
I waved at my family and headed on to the bike. The bike ride at CDA has roughly 6000 feet of climbing and has two loops with a couple of 25 mile sections that are mostly uphill and straight into a 15 to 20 mph headwind. Anyway I got on my bike and headed out only to find that I could not put any weight on the handlebars with my right hand due to my shoulder getting worked from the swim and still in spasm even with the muscle relaxants in my system. My thought in the first 100 yards of the bike was crap, after surviving the swim my day might be over in the first miles of the bike. Well, there was nothing to do but move ahead as I could and see if the shoulder would loosen up and allow me to put some weight on my right hand as the race progressed. The first 10 miles were very awkward trying to ride the bike mostly 1 handed, but then slowly my shoulder did loosen up and I was able to put some weight on it. Over the course of the next 7 hours at times I could put some weight on my right hand at others not so much, but I just kept going as I could. The 2nd loop into the 20 mph headwind for 25 ish miles, mostly uphill was tough, but I just kept at it. It was a great relief when I finally got to the turnaround at mile 95 and headed mostly down hill and down wind. I knew I could finish the bike at that point. I finally got to the bike finish after a tough 112 miles and painfully put weight on my right hand as I hit the brakes to get off the bike.
Then it was on to the 26.2 mile run. I was optimistic about the run and headed off at a decent pace, trying to work out my legs after the long bike ride. The shoulder remained stiff, but the back was holding up ok, so the first 8 miles were pretty solid. At times I wondered what affect doing the muscle relaxants might have on my body during an Ironman, but things were holding together and I waved at my family at mile 13 ish and headed out for the 2nd half of the marathon. Things got a lot harder on that second lap. I was starting to feel muscle groups that had been strained with compensating for back and shoulder issues for 11 or 12 hours and fighting the relaxants in my system. By mile 17 I could feel the impact of each foot impact all the way from my shoulders, down my sides as my muscled slid over my ribs, and felt my hamstrings tightening up. At that point I knew that the run was going to take much longer than I had hoped. I started by walking the next half mile and then tried to jog again, nope no good yet. Muscle relaxants also have a dehydrating affect, so I had to start be careful of my fluid intake and started taking in more water. At mile 18 I was able to jog for a couple minutes before needing to walk again. I just kept going, walking until the pain eased, then jogging until it increased too much again. I walked up the hills this time, jogged down them. At mile 21 it started to rain. I was a bit concerned that with my decrease pace that I might have a drop in my core body temperature, but the rain only lasted for
about 15 minutes. The miles were coming a bit slower, some jogging, some walking, just monitoring the muscle groups for how much they could take at any given time. The miles passed slowly, mile 22, 23, 24. I knew I would finish the race at this point, but wanted to finish sub 14:00:00 if I could. I passed mile 25 and tried to run the rest of the way, but couldn’t. I walked another 2 minutes and then dug deep to get to the finish line in the best run I could manage. It was a long straight run with the crowd now thick and cheering, I focused on just getting that last half mile done, high 5 ing kids along the way as I could, not too steady on the run at this point, trying to smile through the pain, a quarter mile to go, 100 yards, there it is, the finish line.
As I ran down the final 100 feet of the finishing shoot and crossed the finish line after 140.6 very tough miles I heard the announcer say, “Stephen Bratton, you are an IRONMAN.” I quickly looked to the audience and saw my wife, she nodded with approval and relief. I was surprised that a friend, Samantha, who had volunteered at the race, had stayed late to put the finisher’s medal around my neck herself. And it was done, 13 hours 57 minutes, sub 14. Not how I had planned it, but a race well run with sweat and determination. Now, to heal up and prepare for Ironman Lake Tahoe, a much tougher course in September.
Thanks for reading. Stephen Bratton, proud SwimEx 500 S owner and now 5 time Ironman finisher.